Let’s rewind centuries ago… The model of Christian life was established and anyone who departed from that standard was judged.
The past of the witches is the product of a collective hysteria, born of discomfort and fear of what is different.
The term “Witch” referred to a diversity of concepts: heretic, healer, midwife, poisoner, fortune teller, prostitute (or who had sex outside of marriage) or emancipated woman. Even “too beautiful” women were considered witches (i.e. attractive women with seductive power in control of their own sexuality).
For centuries, thousands of women were accused, tried, tortured, and killed for witchcraft, whether it was for being carriers of epidemics, possessing supernatural powers, practicing the cult of the devil… The witch hunt was a misogynist act and is a genocide that should continue to be studied to understand the role of women in society, and the relationship between men and women.
Magic, for our ancestors, was something real and tangible, and its practice was something common, especially in women. So, woman, magic and medicine have always been related. But for Christian society it was always barbaric because it was very difficult, then, to distinguish between magic, religion, and medicine (both biological and psychological). Popular medicine was based on natural remedies; Many of these women were healers, wise scientists and doctors who had knowledge about the medicinal properties of plants. With this knowledge they made potions, ointments, ointments, infusions… but for religious and misogynistic beliefs, all this was poison and contrary to their rules (e.g., abortion remedies).
If we go back years, around 1750 B.C. Hammurabi’s code stated that a witch was a man and made a distinction between justified and unjustified spells, so witchcraft was considered both good and bad. If someone was accused of witchcraft, he was thrown into the river; if she managed to survive, she was acquitted (if she was innocent the accuser was executed for false testimony). In some eras the witch was guilty if they sank and, in others, if they floated.
If it may be true that some remedies they prepared (both men and women) were unintentionally poisonous or hallucinogens, then scientific knowledge increases with trial and error. Also remember that only Western cultures condemned these practices.
In addition, and going back further in time, poisoning was considered by the Greeks and Romans as something typically feminine and, in the Greek world, women were considered magicians because they firmly believed in the efficacy of their practices. These potions and poisonings were a social danger, which is why the witch hunt, known as “veneficia matronarum”, was unleashed. Much empirical knowledge about medicine and science was lost with this persecution.
Centuries later, this same story was repeated over and over again, and any practice of medicine or science of women began to be punished with the death penalty, which used to include previous torture (this is how they got the “confession”). These women have never been considered full citizens; they were socially marginalized (slaves, foreigners, humble, old women…) and were considered weaker and more receptive to the influence of the devil.
From the 13th century the Church began to understand witchcraft as pacts with the devil, and in 1249 the Inquisition of Aragon began. In 1376 the manual “Directorium inquisitorium” was written, which details how to recognize witchcraft (three types were distinguished). In 1486 the book “Malleus maleficarum” is published, assuming the beginning of the period called “Witch Hunt”; spread throughout Europe (reaching America) the idea that witches should be persecuted, judged, and killed. Namely, the largest number of trials coincides with the period of confrontation between Catholics and Protestants. Witchcraft convictions continued in Europe until 1793, and in the New World until the 19th century.
Christianity “translated” the pagan deities of “Mother Earth” and “Goat” as “Witch” and “Devil”, respectively. And with the advent of the printing press, the spread of the fear of witchcraft increased exponentially.
Some of the most famous trials of the Witch Hunt were the Liechtenstein Trials (1679-1682) and the Salem Trials (1692-1693). They were usually executed by burning or hanging. Germany had the highest rate of executions.
It is also possible that women suffering from some type of pathology such as epileptic seizures, or mushroom poisoning that caused spasms and delirium were accused. In fact, this is how the Salem witch trials began, when 9-year-old Elizabeth Parris and 11-year-old Abigail Williams began to suffer seizures, body contortions, and uncontrollable screaming.
But it wasn’t just the fact that the women had knowledge, but also the nature of the female sex: mental abilities, seduction, vindictive and possessive attitude, cyclical, intuitive, high capacity for affection, resilience, bravery, loyalty… all this frightened the male sex and wanted to control because it exceeded the limits of the “civic” and “urban”. Women represented the wild world and any woman who showed intelligence and rebellion was accused of witchcraft.
And that is why when we Google the term “witch” we see faces with snakes for hair, squalid faces, disgusting, giant warts, sagging breasts, etc. The lack of sensuality was key in the representation of these women. This relationship with the wild world gave rise to the idea that they could transform into other beings, especially birds, and this in turn gave rise to the famous witch who flies on a broom (symbol, by the way, phallic and female domesticity). She has also become very attached to, and is still doing, witchcraft with the children. Sorceresses were thought to seek out the smallest to rob and murder.
As we can see, alchemy was considered as witchcraft, and rightly so! Nature is an excellent healer. On the other hand, modern Western witches still struggle to shed this stereotype; most practice Wicca (official religion in the US and Canada). Wiccans avoid evil and its appearance at all costs, and their motto is “do no harm to anyone”, striving to live peacefully, tolerantly and in balance and in tune with nature and humanity.
The history of witches is very extensive and can be studied from various points of view, but witch hunts are not a thing of the past, as they are still being carried out in countries like South Africa, Nigeria, or India. In fact, in Saudi Arabia the death penalty for witchcraft is still in force.
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